Selecting the Best Tomato Varieties for Your Garden
There are thousands of tomatoes available, learn how to pick a variety that will survive and thrive
An annual all-star among gardeners, the tomato is a beloved and beautiful fruit that disguises itself as a vegetable. Botanically speaking, tomatoes are defined as fruits because they form from a flower and contain seeds (like a strawberry, for example). They’re most often utilized like a vegetable in cooking, however, thus nutritionists typically consider tomatoes to be a vegetable.
Fruit, vegetable. Tomay-to, tomah-to. The big question on most folks’ minds is, What are the differences in varieties, and which type of tomato should I grow?
We hear you, tomatoes can be tricky at times. One person’s pride and joy is the bane of another person’s backyard garden. Part of the challenge is the sheer volume of tomato varieties available.
With more than 10,000 tomato varieties available, planting the perfect tomato can be challenging.
To help make things easier for you, we brought in one of our local gardening gurus, Cheralyn Berry, N.C. Cooperative Extension agent in Durham County, who knows a thing or two about growing tomatoes in the South.
Watch and learn how to pick a tomato variety that will survive and thrive in your home or garden! Or continue reading below to learn more about the different types of tomatoes, and how best to grow and enjoy them.
Tomato Plants | Growth Types
If you want to enhance your odds of growing tomato plants with plump, juicy fruit, it’s important up front to consider both the growth habit (size) and fruit type (actual tomato).
Not all tomatoes grow equally. Take time to consider the space you have available, whether you want to grow inside or outdoors, and of course how often you’d like to pick plump tomatoes off the plant.
- Determinate Varieties – Compact, bush-type growth habit. “Determinate” means you can determine the size, so these won’t get too big. All of the flowers and fruit come onto the bush at once, then the plant will senesce and die. Can be grown in backyard gardens with tomato cages. Great choice for canners, as you get a lot of tomatoes off the bush all at once!
- Indeterminate Varieties – Opposite of determinate varieties, in that you can NOT determine how big the plant will grow. With a vining growth habit, they can reach 10 to 12 feet tall. Grow with a trellis, stakes, along a fence, etc. Tomatoes come out at different intervals, so these are good for folks who want to pick a few tomatoes here and there for salads throughout summer.
- Dwarf Varieties – Similar limited growth habit like determinate varieties (though much smaller). They fruit, however, like indeterminate varieties, with tomatoes arriving a few at a time over a period of time. Popular for apartments and smaller spaces, like containers in the home or on window sills or porches.
Tomato Fruit Types
Think about what you want out of your tomatoes and how you plan to use them. Are you looking for a pick-and-pop snack or salad topping all summer? Trying to stock up on canned tomatoes for family and friends?
Here’s a quick guide on the different types of tomatoes to help you make the right choice for your needs:
- Slicing – large and juicy tomatoes, often have more seeds. Great for eating fresh as part of salads, sandwiches, burgers, etc. Beefsteak, Better Boy and German Johnson are a few popular slicing varieties.
- Paste – also known as Roma tomatoes, these are wonderful for cooking (particularly sauces). Less juice and seeds, more fleshy and piffy. Several varieties include Heinz Super Roma, Plum Regal and San Marzano.
- Cherry – small but juicy and flavorful, great for picking and popping right off the plant. Easiest to grow! Black Cherry, Sungolds and Super Sweet 100 are common varieties.
Five Fast Tomato Recipes
Tomatoes are used to make everything from soup to sandwiches to salsa. Speaking of spicy, did you know tomatoes were once thought to have aphrodisiac qualities and were referred to as “love apples” by the French in the 1600s?
Here are five tasty tomato recipes you’re sure to love:
- Authentic Southern Tomato Sandwich
- Avocado Tomato Salad
- Super Tomato Soup
- Spaghetti Squash with Shrimp
Authentic Southern Tomato Sandwich
- 1 big, fresh tomato (beefsteak or other thick and juicy variety)
- 2 slices white bread
- Duke’s mayonnaise
- Salt and ground black pepper
- Cut tomato into thick slices; season with salt and pepper to taste
- Spread mayonnaise on both slices of bread
- Add 2-3 tomato slices (or more) to one slice of bread, then top with remaining slice of bread
- Smoosh everything together a bit to soak up the juices
Recipe courtesy of Tammy Kelly, N.C. Cooperative Extension – Lenoir County
More ‘Mater Materials
Americans love tomatoes, consuming more than 20 pounds per person each year. There are thousands of different cultivars of this popular summer staple, ranging from large, plump heirloom varieties to patio-friendly, bite-size tomato treats in many different colors and shapes.
Want to try your hand at growing tomatoes?
- Check out NC State Extension’s beginner gardener guide and planting calendar.
- Discover the fundamentals of vegetable gardening in the North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook.
- Access expert guidance on Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden.